Main Engine Cut Off

T+61: Northrop Grumman Acquires Orbital ATK, Lockheed Martin Unveils New Satellite Family

Northrop Grumman is acquiring Orbital ATK in a $9.2 billion deal. Lockheed Martin unveiled a new family of satellite busses, positioning themselves for the next era of satellite bus production.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 20 executive producers—Kris, Mike, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Guinevere, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, and five anonymous—and 77 other supporters on Patreon.

Jean-Yves Le Gall Moderating Elon Musk’s IAC Session

Elon Musk’s long-awaited IAC update is coming up next week. Interestingly, his session has a moderator. And that moderator is none other than Jean-Yves Le Gall.

Jean-Yves Le Gall is the President of the host of the IAC, the International Astronautical Federation. But he is also the President of CNES—the French space agency. And before joining CNES in 2013, he was the Chairman and CEO of Arianespace for 12 years.

Le Gall has historically been skeptical about reusability and its potential as an industry-shifting force. After nearly every SpaceX achievement, he was one of the skeptics moving the goal posts and downplaying whatever it was that SpaceX had just done.

This event is only getting more interesting.

(Update from Jeff Foust: “Le Gall also ‘moderated’ Musk’s talk last year. He introduced Musk and did little else.”)

Blue Origin’s CEO

Great catch by /u/FrenchKheldar over on the Blue Origin subreddit on something that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere. Blue Origin landed Bob Smith as CEO just a few weeks ago. Formerly of Honeywell, United Space Alliance, and The Aerospace Corporation, Smith has a ton of experience and a very interesting background to bring to Blue Origin:

Prior to that, he was the VP of Advanced Technology for Honeywell Aerospace. In that role, he set technology growth strategies for Honeywell’s $12B aerospace business, won government technology contracts and managed the multi-year technology programs.

At United Space Alliance (1999-2004), Bob served as Executive Director of the Space Shuttle Upgrades Development Program. He was responsible for a business that managed a variety of projects that ranged from very large efforts, such as major modifications that replaced the Orbiter’s hydraulic power sources and data handling systems, to smaller efforts, such as the development of new Shuttle tiles and landing systems.

Take a minute to read his full bio. The experience he brings from very firmly-established aerospace groups will be incredibly valuable for Blue Origin as they shift from research and development to operations.

T+60: New Glenn’s Fairing, OneWeb’s Factory

Blue Origin announced a size increase to New Glenn’s fairing, and OneWeb has decided to keep their Toulouse factory open for other customers after their initial 10-satellite production run is over. Both decisions bring about some interesting implications for the market at large.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 19 executive producers—Kris, Mike, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Guinevere, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, and five anonymous—and 69 other supporters on Patreon.

Ariane 6 Lands First Launch Contract

These launches are planned between the end of 2020 and mid-2021, using two Ariane 62 launchers – the configuration of Europe’s new-generation launch vehicle that is best suited for the targeted orbit. The contract also provides for the possibility of using the Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center, if needed.

Both missions will carry a pair of Galileo spacecraft to continue the constellation deployment for Europe’s satellite-based navigation system. The satellites, each weighing approximately 750 kg., will be placed in medium earth orbit (MEO) at an altitude of 23,222 kilometers and be part of the Galileo satellite navigation constellation.

Not quite what I would call an unexpected first customer for Ariane 6, but this at least gives us 3 launches to put on the calendar. The first launch has the surprisingly-specific date of July 16, 2020, with these two to follow shortly thereafter.

OneWeb Satellites to keep Toulouse factory open for other customers

Caleb Henry, for SpaceNews:

OneWeb Satellites will build other satellites roughly the same size as the 150-kilogram satellites under construction for OneWeb. Some designs may grow slightly larger, but OneWeb Satellites doesn’t intend to build much smaller than that.

“We won’t do everything. We are a certain size spacecraft with a certain capability and we can tweak some of the parameters a little bit. It’s not everything for everybody, but there are some very interesting things we can do,” he said.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. It’s a very smart move for OneWeb.

Their architecture decisions force them to take a fresh approach to satellite production, so it’ll be very interesting to see what they can do as a production center for others.

Caleb and I talked about this sort of thing on the podcast a few weeks ago. It’s plausible to see a future of mass-produced-yet-configurable satellites take over from the one-of-a-kind, expensive, single satellite construction era.

I could very much see the ~200 kilogram satellite becoming to the next decade what the ~5,000 kilogram satellite has been to the last few. As we see with OneWeb, satellites in the 200 kilogram range can be launched on small, dedicated vehicles like LauncherOne, or put into a dispenser to launch as a set on a Soyuz or larger.

That’s a lot of flexibility for a market in transition.

New Glenn Gets Larger Fairing

Blue Origin updated New Glenn’s design with a new, larger 7-meter fairing for the 2- and 3-stage variants. Previously, the 3-stage had a 7-meter fairing, but it was quite a bit shorter than the new one.

The 5-meter fairing on the 2-stage New Glenn never made much sense to me. It’s better to keep hardware common across the board for the benefits that brings to production. And, if you’ve got a 7-meter diameter, use it. But I hope that Blue Origin is considering fairing reusability as seriously as SpaceX is working on it. Those 7-meter fairings are huge, which means expensive materials, and even more expensive production.

Blue Origin is promoting the 7-meter upgrade by showing off its uses: higher-count LEO constellation dispensers, dual-manifesting two large satellites, and enough room for “simplified deployment mechanisms.”

Their line about dual-manifesting two large satellites is directly aimed at Arianespace. The Ariane 5 (and soon 6) can launch two satellites at once to GTO, but the systems to make that possible impose some size and mass constraints on each satellite. Presumably, with so much room to work with under the New Glenn fairing, these constraints are non-existent.

Their line about “simplified deployment mechanisms” is pretty obviously talking about missions like the James Webb Space Telescope. With bigger fairings, such intricate origami as is used to fold up the JWST is not needed. That makes New Glenn an interesting choice for future NASA missions—space telescopes, missions to the outer planets, and more—which require a lot of payload space.

Interestingly, fairing size was one of the two areas that SLS could claim without argument. And I say “was” because cargo SLS is just about as much a paper rocket as New Glenn. Not only will New Glenn fly before cargo SLS, but it may even fly before SLS at all, if things keep slipping they way they’ve been slipping.

While Blue Origin is taking mostly subtle shots at Arianespace and SLS, they’re going much more directly at Aerojet Rocketdyne with recent updates to their website. In the BE-4 section, Blue Origin talks definitively about how BE-4 will power ULA’s Vulcan in 2019, and they have a long diatribe about how BE-4 is the “Lowest Cost, Lowest Risk” choice to replace the use of the RD-180 engine. Blue Origin finally has something on the web to go up against Aerojet Rocket’s

With every step taken towards the launchpad, Blue Origin gets more confident, they open up, and they let the industry know just what’s coming its way.

Introducing MECO Headlines

For the past year and a half, I’ve kept each episode of the weekly(ish) podcast focused on one or two big stories from the week (or a single theme, when guests join me). That means that I’m missing out on a lot of other stories going on in space. It’s time to fix that.

I’ve added a new tier to the MECO Patreon: at $3 per month (or above!), you’ll get access to the weekly MECO Headlines podcast. Each Friday, I’ll be recording and publishing a show where I sit down, run through the headlines of the week’s space news, and discuss some of those smaller-yet-still-great stories. It’s a great way to stay up on all the space news happening out there (it’s sometimes overwhelming…).

If you’ve pledged $3 per month or more, you’ll see the episodes showing up in your Patreon feeds starting today. But there’s a better way: you’ll also have access to a private RSS feed. Copy that link and subscribe to it in your favorite podcast player, and you’ll be listening to MECO Headlines right alongside everything else you’re listening to already.

T+59: Jake Robins

Thanks to August Patrons

Very special thanks to the 87 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of August. Your support is much appreciated and helps me continually improve the blog and podcast by helping to cover infrastructure costs, gear upgrades, travel expenses for launches and conferences, and most importantly, to keep this independent.

And a huge thanks to the 17 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Mike, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Guinevere, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, and four anonymous executive producers. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

If you’re getting some value out of what I do here and want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and donate as little as $1 a month—every little bit helps.

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.